NAMM 2020: Universal Audio’s LUNA is a free DAW for Apollo audio interface owners

NAMM 2020: In an audacious move - and one that could have far-reaching ramifications for the music production industry - Universal Audio has announced the LUNA Recording System. As far as we can tell, this is nothing short of a free DAW for users of the company’s Apollo and Arrow audio interfaces, and that could be very big news indeed.

The first thing to consider is the main LUNA Application, which, as you’d expect, offers super-tight integration with UA’s interfaces. In fact, we’re told that it enables you to record through DSP-powered UAD plugins with no discernable latency; this is thanks to the new Accelerated Realtime Monitoring feature. UA suggests that this provides performance and reliability on a par with $10k+ DSP-assisted recording systems, and all from the comfort of your home studio.

Next, we have LUNA Extensions, specific processing features that are built into the LUNA Application. The first of these provides summing circuitry from the Neve 80-Series audio mixing consoles from the ‘60s and ‘70s. UA says that this is far more than a summing plugin; the technology is built into LUNA’s mixer [update: this will be a paid-for feature], and promises to add energy and life to your mixes.

There’s also the Oxide LUNA Extension - a Multitrack Tape emulation that’s built into LUNA’s transport, and one that’s designed to add warmth and cohesion to any track you use it on. If you want more magnetic tape sounds there’s an optional Studer A800 Tape Recorder Extension, which will be sold separately.

Universal Audio LUNA

(Image credit: Universal Audio)

The other big reveal is LUNA Instruments - yes, Universal Audio is now creating soft synths rather than just effect plugins. At launch, you’ll be able to call on an official Moog-branded version of the Minimoog, the Ravel grand piano - a Steinway Model B emulation that uses sampling and physical modelling - and Shape, a sample-based instrument that covers all manner of sounds. This comes free with LUNA, but it looks like the Minimoog and Ravel will have to be paid for.

That’s about all we have so far, other than the confirmation that LUNA will be offered as a free download to all owners of Thunderbolt-equipped Apollo and Arrow audio interfaces when it’s released in the Spring. That means it won’t work with the Apollo FireWire or Apollo Twin USB.

It’s also worth noting that, as things stand, LUNA is Mac only: there’s no word yet on whether a PC version is in development. What’s more, there are some wider compatibility questions. Does LUNA support VST/AU plugins? Can it run as a plugin within your existing DAW? And can the new LUNA Instruments be used as plugins in other software?

Most importantly of all, we have to ask if LUNA will have enough in its locker at launch to convince Apollo owners to make it their main DAW. Getting people to change their music production software and workflow isn’t going to be easy, particularly when LUNA is going up against products that have years of development behind them and enjoy strong brand loyalty.

These are certainly interesting times, though: find out more on the Universal Audio website.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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